October 12 2009
No one must be left behind
It has been a busy weekend. The US Secretary of State arrived in Ireland for events in Dublin and Belfast; the INLA announced an end to their armed actions; the Irish language community in Belfast celebrated three years of campaigning for an Acht na Gaeilge, and the Green Party worked out a ‘deal’ with Fianna Fáil which saved both from facing the wrath of the electorate at this time.
As your man said to me they may be green but they’re not stupid!
Stormont Castle is where this blog was this morning. It’s what architects and historians - and wikipedia - describe as a baronial castellated house.
It was built in the 19th century and acquired in 1921, along with 235 acres of land, for the site of the Unionist parliament created as a result of partition.
Over the years it has been home to Unionist Prime Ministers; government officials engaged in ‘war work’ during the early 1940’s; and a succession of British Secretaries of State after the British took direct control of the six counties in 1972.
Two years ago when the current power sharing Executive was established Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley, in their first joint act, wrote to the British Secretary of State Peter Hain asking him to vacate the building so they could move in.
He did and they did.
This morning the Castle played host to the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The DUP met her first and then it was the turn of a Sinn Fein delegation which included myself, Martin McGuinness, Michelle Gildernew, Caitríona Ruane, Gerry Kelly, and Martina Anderson.
Much of the focus of the Clinton visit has been on the issue of transfer of powers on policing and justice. The Secretary of State has been very strong in her public comments that it needs to happen. It is an ‘essential milestone’ she has said which is ‘within reach.’
But it’s not the only issue. As she acknowledged in the Assembly, when she spoke about the growth in US investment in the north, it must also be about opportunity. Investment in jobs has to be about improving the lives of citizens.
Structured political, religious and economic discrimination is still a major factor in creating and perpetuating inequality. Investment has to be about ending inequality.
The reality, as this blog has observed before, is that the peace process, the political process, must deliver jobs. It must deliver change. It must deliver economic investment and development into those areas which have been neglected and discriminated against for generations, and particularly since partition.
It must deliver for communities, including deprived unionist working class neighbourhoods.
No one must be left behind as a result of the progress that has and is being made. That means that the Executive and the agencies of government have to ensure that investment from the USA and elsewhere is directed into areas which have been disadvantaged.
Of course there is resistance within the establishment to that. But bit by bit that has to be broken down.
The weekend also saw some positive political developments with the announcement by the INLA that it is to end its ‘armed struggle’ and to pursue its goals through ‘exclusively peaceful political struggle.’
Given the history of the INLA there will undoubtedly be some scepticism about their announcement.
Inevitably the INLA decision will place the spotlight on those other micro republican organisations who still insist on using violence. They should listen to the will of the Irish people and accept that political objectives can only be pursued by purely peaceful and democratic methods.
And finally let me congratulate Pobal and all of those citizens who turned out at St. George's Market in Belfast to celebrate three years of campaigning for Acht na Gaeilge.
It was a great afternoon with lots of music and craic for the hundreds of young people who attended.